Ask a College Advisor: Is 50 Too Old to Go Back to College?

Hear from one of our education professionals on going back to college in your 50s.

portrait of Lonnie Woods III
by Lonnie Woods III

Published August 9, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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Ask a College Advisor: Is 50 Too Old to Go Back to College?
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Question: Is 50 too old to go back to college?

Answer: Absolutely not! Going back to college can happen at any age. Going back to college in your 40s or 50s carries unique challenges, but as long as you're dedicated and willing to put the effort in, you can be successful!

Going Back to College

Whether you're ready for a career change, looking to finish your degree, or just want to keep stretching your mind, there are many reasons to go back to college. If you are in your fifties and considering going back to college, you are not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 600,000 adults age 50 and older were enrolled in a postsecondary institution in the fall of 2019. This represents about 3% of students.

College attendance is highly marketed to recent high school graduates in their late teens, so it's common for older adult learners to feel out of place in a college environment. And while many students enroll in college when they're between the ages of 17 and 18, there is still room in the college classroom for people in their fifties.

Here is some advice as you begin your journey as a student in your fifties.

Find the Right College for You

There are many program types and formats for older adults looking to enroll in or go back to college. Students can choose between in-person and online programs, as well as community colleges, vocational schools, and more. Learners who already hold a bachelor's degree must decide if they want to pursue a second bachelor's degree, a master's degree, or a different type of continuing education.

It's really important that you research your options before applying to make sure you're making the best decision for you. You may consider attending programs specifically designed for older adult learners, working professionals, and career changers — these may be more likely to cater to your unique needs and schedule.

Brush Up on Computer and Tech Skills

Going back to school in your fifties can be a challenge if you don't have a strong grasp of modern technology and computer-based systems and tools. For example, many schools use digital processes and programs to process paperwork, such as your application.

You'll also most likely need computer skills to turn in assignments, register for classes, and find student services and other resources. I suggest taking a free digital literacy course so you'll feel up to speed once school starts.

Find Community

Before you enroll, ask your prospective school administrators about ways that you can get involved in student events and activities that fit your interests as an older adult learner. Additionally, finding or forming a study group can make you feel much more comfortable and supported on your new journey.

Choosing a school with appropriate campus resources can also help you overcome potential challenges. Student services like tutoring, career advising, and mental health resources can help you be more successful in your degree program.

Be Open-Minded

Go into this new phase of your life open to the possibilities instead of focusing on the potential limitations. The world is full of opportunities when you lean into the celebration of this new goal that you are working toward. Keep a positive attitude and remember that anything worth having is worth working for.

Creating achievable goals for your future and keeping a list of how your education will further your professional and personal aspirations can help keep you motivated.

Summary

You can go back to school at any age, but older, nontraditional students face certain challenges that younger students often do not. For example, many nontraditional students struggle with imposter syndrome, especially in a classroom where many of their peers do not look like them.

Finding the right program type, building a community, and equipping yourself with resources to manage potential challenges can help older adult learners feel more comfortable and be more successful going back to college.

Have a Question About College?

In our Ask a College Advisor series, experienced advisors provide an insider look at the college experience by answering your questions about college admissions, finances, and student life.


DISCLAIMER: The responses provided as part of the Ask a College Advisor series are for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a professional academic, career, or financial advisor before making decisions regarding individual situations.